Category: South Africa (page 12 of 22)

When the fifth day of a Test match has the right ingredients

The fifth day of a Test can be dreadful. It can also be the best thing ever. When you get the right ingredients, it’s rich and intoxicating, like a creamy mustard sauce laced with smack.

The second (and final) Test between South Africa and Australia is set up perfectly. South Africa could win or Australia could win. Nor is a draw out of the equation and that’s a good thing. People talk about wanting a result, but a draw is a result and that extra layer of complexity is one more thing that affects the way in which play develops. The changing tones of the action are what make cricket what it is.

Then there are the subplots. The most significant is that of old man Ponting. The crease-faced munchkin is being written off because he’s not been getting into double figures of late, but the man’s always looked gash early on. He managed to get up and running yesterday and if he does so again, it’ll be fascinating to see how he does.

Follow today’s play in person, on TV, on the radio or via the internet. It will be better than whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing by some margin.

One down in a two Test series

Peter Siddle's really keen to draw the series

It’s a generalisation to say that long-term cricket fans gravitate towards the longest format, but it’s not an outrageous generalisation, like saying that all left-handed people are agents of Lucifer.

We’ve twice this year had perfectly civil interaction with someone who has later revealed themselves to be sickeningly wrong-handed, but we haven’t spoken to a single person in that period who has watched cricket for a decade or more and whose favourite format is Twenty20.

Yet here we have a two-Test series between South Africa and Australia. It’s counterintuitive that the whole sport should be geared more towards the fairweather fan than the diehard, but it is understandable. Our loyalty is taken for granted and the assumption is that we will make do with other formats if that is what we are given.

Still, if we were an Australian, we’d be quite pissed off that our side had lost the chance to win a Test series in the space of one hour of hilarious batting during the first Test.

“Fourth day of a series and the best we can hope for is a draw,” we’d say. “Is this what it means to be Australian these days? Is this our lot from now on? Is this why our forefathers renounced sleeves?”

Jacques Kallis’s odd days

Jacques looking 'comfortable'

Every now and again, Jacques Kallis has an odd day where he suddenly starts thrashing the ball around like he’s been possessed by one of Shahid Afrid’s many personalities.

He holds the record for the fastest Test fifty off 24 balls. Yes, it was against Zimbabwe, but plenty of other people have played against Zimbabwe as well and they didn’t do that.

We’ve written before that Kallis’s reputation is somewhat unfairly etched in stone by this point in his career, but we’re a great fan of these odd days of his. We like them specifically because he has invested so much of his life into doing the exact opposite. It feels like a treat.

Today, he hit 54 off 41 balls after Australia had reduced South Africa to 43-2 on the first morning of the second (and final) Test. This included a six and a four off Nathan Lyon’s first over, which brought to mind the treatment he meted out to Bryce McGain a couple of years ago. His batting then had been calculated and vicious and we were secretly hoping for something similar today.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Jacques will have to spend the rest of the innings in the pavilion, munching cakes and smoothing his fair locks in the mirror.

Brad Haddin’s wicket was our favourite

When they manufacture a girl band or a boy band, they often work on a simple principle: put enough reasonably attractive people in one place and it’s hard to assess the visual merits of any one individual.

When it comes to girl bands, we subconsciously take the best features of each of the talentless no-marks, blending them together to form a Frankenstein’s pop star of rare beauty who exists only in our mind. After a year of struggling to keep up with the rapid editing of their music videos in a bid to identify the good-looking one, we will eventually realise that they’re all munters. But it takes a year.

We feel similarly about today’s South Africa v Australia dismissathon. So many wickets. Can any truly stand out?

Well, yes, actually. One wicket does stand out. Brad Haddin’s. On a day when great bowling met mindless batting, this was an absolute beauty.

It’s all about context. 17 wickets have fallen in the day and your team is 18-5. What do you do? Do you amble down the pitch to a short pitched ball and try and flap it into the air on the off side for no real reason? HELL YES, YOU DO!

Imagine you’re standing atop the white cliffs of Dover. A strong wind is blowing, causing people to lose their footing. So far you’ve seen 17 people slide over the edge and if you peer over, you can make out their spattered remains on the rocks below.

Most of us would back away from the edge in that situation. Brad Haddin would take a ruddy great run-up in the belief that he could jump to France.

Australia’s lowest Test total of all time

As we write, Australia are 22-9 in 12.5 overs.

Their lowest total ever is 36 and the lowest Test total of all time is New Zealand’s 26 (both those scores were against England, incidentally).

Bizarrely, Australia are actually 210 ahead, thanks to Michael Clarke’s increasingly spectacular 151 in the first innings and South Africa’s 96 all out.

Australia could quite easily record an utterly humiliating victory in this Test match.

Dale Steyn has genuine ambition

Dale Steyn doesn’t want to be the guy who gets a standing ovation for three wickets in a Twenty20 match. He’s prepared to put in the hard yards. This is what he said before this Test series:

”There’s a lot of guys who can bowl 150km/h when you give them the ball when they’re fresh in the morning, but can they do it late in the afternoon when it’s boiling hot and they’re bowling their 20th over for the day? I want to be able to do that and I want to be the only guy who is able to do that. I want to be in your face all day, not for little periods of time, that is pretty much my inspiration. I want the opposition to walk off and say: ‘Shit, that was tough’.”

He then spent a bit of time whinging about the fact that South Africa are only playing two Tests against Australia and only three against England next summer.

It’s impossible not to warm to the man. This is how he came to be named Lord Megachief of Gold 2010.

Mohammad Amir – don’t mourn the loss of a future great

We are deliberately using a picture where he isn't wearing cricket gear

“Please don’t let it be the kid,” said Nasser Hussain at the start of all of this. He spoke for most of us.

We wanted Mohammad Amir to be innocent, but it turns out that he wasn’t and believing that he might have become a future great makes no sense now that the facts are in.

He won’t be a future great and there is a very good reason for that.

A test of character

Cricket, and Test cricket in particular, is a test of character. In fact, over the course of a career, it’s a test of everything. The great players weren’t necessarily the only ones with extraordinary skill at their disposal. They were also the ones who gave themselves the best chance of proving how good they were.

Take Dale Steyn for example

He is currently considered the best bowler in the world. Is that simply because he’s the most skilful? No, it’s not.

Some bowlers have had better opening spells, but Steyn stays strong all day. Other bowlers have taken more wickets in an innings, but Steyn bowls well almost every innings. Some bowlers have had fewer setbacks, but Steyn has responded better to the ones he’s had.

He’s had bad days and injuries and he’s wealthy enough that he doesn’t need to play. Yet he does. He hasn’t got lazy; he hasn’t got fat; he hasn’t grown dispirited or disillusioned; and as far as any of us know, he hasn’t accepted money to bowl any no-balls.


Being persuaded to fix elements of cricket matches is a failing. It knackers your career even more comprehensively than other failings, like lack of skill, lack of fitness or wealth-induced complacency, which is what keeps so many promising cricketers from achieving their potential.

We are not going to mourn the loss of Mohammad Amir, because even if he was pressured into doing what he did, he doesn’t seem to have resisted strongly enough. He was found wanting.

New Zealand were the ones who beat South Africa

New Zealand celebrate winning the toss

Exceptional cricket. That is how you exploit a weakness.

At 108-2 chasing 222, South Africa seemed untroubled, but there was a spot on their face. It was very small, but it was there. With the dismissal of Jacques Kallis, they gave it a little bit of a scratch and took the top off it, drawing a faint speck of blood.

What New Zealand did then was magnificent. They sawed off Mount Everest, tipped it over, inserted the tip into that blemish and pushed. Bringing the field in, surrounding the South Africans, they pushed and they pushed and they pushed until that tiny break in the skin was a wound and then they pushed some more until South Africa split in two.

That is how you win big cricket matches. Full marks to New Zealand. References to South African mental frailty do them a grave disservice.

Cricket World Cup storylines

The great thing about actual, proper tournaments is the way that narratives develop. Every remaining team already has a good story in place if they eventually go on to become World Champions.

Pakistan – Would defy what was a catastrophic build-up to the tournament even by their standards. Being as Pakistan cricket has a higher staff turnover than the active squad in Cannon Fodder, that’s quite some preparation.

India – Would see Sachin Tendulkar claim the trophy in his home city.

Australia – Like an old codger urinating in a rich man’s swimming pool, they would have found a way to rage against the dying of the light.

England – Would have shrugged off a triviality like seeming to be really, really bad at cricket to register a first World Cup win which would also complete their best year ever.

Sri Lanka – Could wave goodbye to Muralitharan having repaid about 0.01 per cent of the debt they owe the man.

South Africa – Would have demonstrated a newfound ability to ensure the flow of air from the environment into the lungs.

New Zealand – Would have won the World Cup. They haven’t done that before.

What’s a good World Cup score?

England’s 327 wasn’t enough against Ireland, but 171 was enough against South Africa. It’s not a matter of different opponents, it’s different conditions. This is why between-innings analysis is so often virtually worthless.

What constitutes a good score varies because a run doesn’t have a set value – it changes depending on the match. People who rate one batsman as being better than another because he averages half a run more would do well to learn that.

On the other hand, in England’s case you could say that lower scores are better. When runs are more valuable, England have been less spendthrift in the field. With that in mind, a good World Cup score for them would be somewhere around 11 or 12 – maybe as much as 30.

Up until their last match, England had been scoring far too heavily to be realistic challengers for this World Cup, so the injury to Kevin Pietersen could prove a godsend. Calling up Eoin Morgan as his replacement would be a massive mistake. It would make far more sense to call up someone like Devon Malcolm to play as a specialist batsman.

The ‘scoring fewer runs’ tactic does fall down a bit if you’re chasing a target we’ve just realised. They say that nothing is certain in cricket, but you’d be lucky to get away with a tie if you scored 52 and the opposition scored 320.

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